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Giants vs. Jets: Five players to watch in the first preseason game

Which players are we watching as the Giants open their preseason?

NFL: New York Giants-Training Camp Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The first game of the New York Giants 2021 season is upon us. The Giants will take the field to face cross-town rival New York Jets to open the 2021 preseason on Saturday evening.

Historically, these two teams have met for the third preseason game, which served as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. With both teams’ starters playing heavy snaps and coaches scheming to win the game, this game always seemed to have more gravitas than other preseason game.

But this year Giants vs. Jets is the first game of the year, and we won’t see much in the way of wrinkles in the teams’ game plans.

Obviously one of the biggest "big picture" questions regarding the game, and the Giants' preseason strategy as a whole, is which starters play and how much. We already know that quarterback Daniel Jones won't be playing at all, and we can safely assume other starters won't be taking the field as well.

That's a gamble for the Giants, but it could be a necessary one. The NFL only has three preseason games to work with as they get ready for the season. We saw last year how missing preseason games can lead to stumbles at the start of the season. But teams have to balance getting ready for the start of the season with managing fatigue and injury risk for a longer 17-game season.

But we do know there's a game on Saturday night, and the Giants will be on the field. So let's take a look at some of the most interesting players to watch, and what makes them so intriguing.

Matt Peart (OT)

As the Giants' prospective starting right tackle -- and coming off of a back injury -- it's fair to wonder just how much Peart should be on the field. However, he doesn't have much experience and needs every rep he can get.

Peart was a sub-package player in 2020, coming on when the Giants wanted to use more zone blocking schemes in their rushing offense. Peart is a long and athletic tackle, but did have a habit of playing a bit high at times. Given the questions about the Giants' offensive interior, they'll need their tackles to hold up in case Jones has to scramble.

I'll be watching to see if Peart plays with good technique and maintains his leverages. Not to mention watching to see how much he plays, how well he moves, and how well he handles whichever pass rushers the Jets send against him.

David Sills V (WR)

Sills has been one of the stand-outs in practice, getting mentioned in just about every report. But I'm more interested in Sills because of the bigger picture implications of how he is used.

Obviously, how early Sills gets on the field and how much (or little) he plays could give us an indication as to how likely he is to make the final roster. But at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Sills is a good analogue for the 6-foot-4, 213 pound Kenny Golladay. The Giants have tried to make due without a true "X" receiver the last couple years, forcing the receivers on their roster to play against their skillets and out of position. It also limited how they were able to call their offense. While Jason Garrett has long been known for his “Air Coryell” influences, he was forced to call an offense which bore a striking resemblance to what Pat Shurmur called the previous two seasons. How the Giants use Sills could give us some context clues to how they plan to use Golladay, which could give us some insight into how they plan to play offense in 2020.

Kyle Murphy (iOL)

There are a few backup offensive linemen I could have gone with, but since Murphy was a four-year teammate of our own Joe DeLeone, I thought I’d highlight him — I know I’m rooting for him.

The first thing to watch out for is when Murphy gets on the field. If he’s on early and is taken off the field after a couple series, he could be more highly thought of than we realize. Likewise, it’ll be important to see what position (or positions) he plays. Murphy played across the Rhode Island offensive line and is listed as an “OL” on the Giants’ roster page. While he might be most comfortable as a guard, his versatility could prove to be a boon for both him and the Giants.

Having an offensive lineman who can play multiple positions and you aren’t cringing to see run onto the field is important for NFL teams. Having a player who can save you roster spots is really valuable come cut-down time.

B.J. Hill (DT)

Hill is expected to be high in the defensive tackle rotation might not even play, and likely won’t play much if he does see the field against the Jets. However, time could also be running out on Hill as he enters the fourth year of his career. Hill made a splash as a rookie with a 5.5 sack season on the strength of a 3.0 sack performance against the Chicago Bears. Since that year, Hill has seen his playing time wane and only had 2.0 sacks in the last two years (to go with 2 tackles for a loss and 5 QB hits in 2019 and 2020).

I’ll be watching to see when Hill gets on the field, as earlier could indicate that his spot on the roster and depth chart are fairly secure. I also want to see where Hill lines up and what role he plays. He played nose tackle at North Carolina State, but played a 3, 4i, and 5-technique role last year. We’ll probably see a pretty vanilla defensive scheme, but we could see Hill play both the nose (or 1-technique) or the 3-technique or defensive end in 3-man fronts.

The Giants don’t have much of a track record of extending the defensive tackles they draft, and if Hill wants to break that streak he’ll have to start now.

Rodarius Williams (CB)

Like Sills, Williams has been a standout in camp practices. He is listed as the third (right) cornerback on the depth chart, but the Giants’ unofficial depth chart doesn’t list slot corners. If they did, Darnay Holmes — who’s ahead of Williams — is likely the starting slot corner.

Does that mean Williams has already worked his way to being the number 2 corner on his side? Or could he find his way inside as depth behind Holmes?

We could see Williams play both positions as the Giants try to find out where he fits best. We’ll also be looking to see if his knack for making plays in practice translate onto the football field when going against another team.

As a side note, how Williams plays (particularly if he lines up on the outside) could give us some hint as to what kind of coverage schemes the Giants are intending to play. We saw a lot of zone coverage last year, but have speculated that the Giants want to play more press coverage in 2021. Teams don’t want to show their hand before games start to count, but they also want to work on the techniques they intend to use.

Bonus: Zach Wilson (QB, Jets)

We just had to include Wilson in this one. He had a meteoric rise to pass Justin Fields and even challenge Trevor Lawrence at the top of the quarterback charts in the 2021 NFL draft. Wilson took a bit of a step back as a sophomore after a strong freshman campaign, but bounced back with an incredible junior season. Wilson’s numbers (3,692 yards, 73.5 percent completion, 33 touchdowns to 3 interceptions) were fantastic last year, but his ability to make plays off platform and outside of the structure of the play is what captured peoples’ imagination.

Wilson generated so much buzz over the course of 2020 and the 2021 draft process had some analysts and observers comparing him to Patrick Mahomes. It’s too much to say that Wilson is the next Mahomes, but he could make for some fun football to watch. I know I’m curious to see what he does at the NFL level.